What makes a name?

If you have ever named a child, you will know all about the agony of choosing the label that they will be forced to use for the rest of their life. You’ll have had the sleepless nights, worrying over significant questions ….

  • How will the name effect the way people perceive them?
  • Will they be teased in the playground because of their name?
  • Should their name carry on a family history or convention?
  • Does the name evoke any cultural, racial or sexual taboos?

Naming a company, product or service, can be similar in many ways, but with a number of additional considerations …

  • Parents have the luxury of baby name books, that encourage you to select from a list of known names. Adopting a similar approach for your company, product or service may land you in hot water.

  • Parents seldom consider the availability of an on-line identity.

  • Is the name a faux amis in an urban dialect or another language?

  • Should the name be protected?

There is however, one absolute certainty. Everybody will have an opinion on the name. You can bet that not everybody will like it. Indeed some may even hate it. 


When naming a company, product or service, the key to convincing these doubters and getting the name approved, is to use a rigorous and robust naming process.


The Naming Process:


1. Competitive Landscape: The first stage in the process of generating a new name, is to have a clear view of the competitor environment and the context in which the name will function. How is the competition positioning themselves and their products or services? How are they achieving this?


When evaluating the competition, the tools used should be the same as those used to evaluate the final shortlist of names, thus ensuring the comparison is done on a an equal basis. 


2. Naming Plan: In the context of the Competitive landscape, the next stage is to develop the naming plan.


Architecture: When considering the name under development, it is necessary to have a view, not just of the competitor environment, but the internal context for the name. How will the company name and product/service names co-exist? How will the portfolio be categorised and sub divided? How will names evolve over time?


Volume: Unique, powerful names can be difficult to generate and expensive to protect. As such, if the portfolio consists of a large number of products or variants with short product lives, a more industrial, labelling approach, maybe more appropriate. If so, any emotional impact, should be delivered either through the master brand or a smaller number of hero products, product groups or sub brands.


Category: Based upon the competitive landscape, the internal context, and to focus the creative process, a clear understanding of the type of name being developed, is required. Names can fall into one of four categories. Each has their respective benefits and deficiencies. 

  • Descriptive: Theses name describe the function of the company, product or service. However, as descriptive key words within a given sector are limited, uniqueness versus the competition can be difficult to articulate and protect.

  • Experiential: Names in this category attempt to forge a link back to the human experience of interacting with the company, product or service. Such names tend to be used widely across many different industry sectors, “Explorer” is a watch; a web browser; a category of maps; an SUV etc.

  • Invented: These names are either made up, are non-native words that are not in common usage or they abstractly describe a function. Due to their very nature, these names stand a good chance of progressing through legal checks. As they lack emotional content, they can encounter difficulties, when trying to develop marketing energy around them and during the approval process. 

    Over time, successful created names, may turn into nouns (i.e, Jeep; Hoover.) or verbs ( i.e, google– Have you ever googled some bodies name?)

  • Figurative: Names in this category, imply the positioning for a company, product or service. They are probably the most powerful name category as they are littered with relevant images that re-enforce the implied positioning. They also stand a good chance of passing legal searches as they do not necessarily fall into any particular industry cliché. 

Name Category Examples:




Naming Matrix 4



3. Idea Generation: Once the naming plan is in place, its time to started generating ideas. At this stage in the process, it’s about generating a long list of candidates and is likely to take a number of brainstorming sessions, sleepless nights and time. 


You’ll have some favourites at this stage, but its best not to get emotionally attached to any. Legal and Linguistics checks will significantly reduce the number of candidates, by how much, will depend upon the naming category that has been selected to work within.


4. Legal Checks: It may come as a surprised at what can be registered. Therefore the best tip would be, don’t make any assumptions. Find a good trademark lawyer/attorney, to conduct the searches on your behalf.


Under the UK Trade Marks Act 1994, “a ‘trade mark’ means any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.”


As such, a trade mark may consist of words, personal names, letters, numerals, colours, shapes of goods or their packaging, however they must be distinctive (or generated a distinctive character through usage). Some considerations of which to be aware:

  • Registration takes place within a product or service class. Thus even if a name has been trade marked, it may still be available for use in your category. For example the name “Explorer” is registered by Rolex in Classes 9, 14, 37, and also by the Ford Motor Company in Class 12. (Not to be confused with “Internet Explorer“, also registered in Class 9, by Microsoft Corporation.)

  • Registration is done on a geographic basis. Thus though a name is trademarked in one country, it may not be protected in another.

  • You may think that you have found a superb name that is not currently protected. However, do not think that you can simply apply for a trade mark and “squat” on it. It is possible for a third party to apply to revoke a trade mark, if it is not in use.

These checks, will only inform you if the name is already known to the registrar. The name being screened, may not be registered or may not be register-able under the criteria of the act. Never the less, it may still be in use by a competitor.


5. Linguistics Checks: The history of naming is littered with examples of faux amis, with such classics examples as Zune; Chichi’s; Nova; WiX; to name a very small selection. These may only be identified through rigorous linguistics checks. When undertaking such checks, there are considerations other than faux amis, that should be taken into account:

  • Acronyms: In the late 90’s / early 00’s, French Connection UK, based their company branding and marketing campaigns on theirs. Other organisations maybe a little more discerning and might wish to avoid similarly suggestive acronyms.

  • Numbers: May not necessarily the safe option that you might at first believe. In some cultures, certain numbers or number combinations, have negative connotations that you might wish to take into account. Examples include, 4; 9; 13; 14; 250; 666; 9413; 5354. Conversely some numbers, such as 8, may have very positive associations. 

  • Phonics: Letter and number combinations maybe used to create the phonetic version of words that might best be avoided. English examples include: H8; B10.

  • Pronounce-ability: In some languages, certain letters or letter combinations maybe more difficult to pronounce and thus may effect perceptions, if used within a name.

The keys to successful linguistics checking, is thus not only the quality of the linguistics agency selected,  but to …

  • have a clear understanding of the territories and languages to which the name will be exposed.

  • have a clear view, as to how severe the faux amis or negative association must be in order to warrant rejection.

6. Short Listing: Process Steps 3, 4 and 5 maybe repeated as the name candidates are refined from a long list to a short list for testing or final approval.  The Legal and Linguistics checks will undoubtedly get more rigorous as the final short-list of candidates becomes apparent.


Tools exist to asses the characteristics of a name. Almost all use a numeric scoring system to provide a relative ranking and attempt to remove emotional bias for a given name. They key is to identify the key characteristics that you are looking for and to judge these in a dispassionate manner verses the competition.


7, On-Line identity: Once the shortlist of candidates is in place, availability of a suitable on-line identity should be assessed.  Somebody may already legitimately occupy your favoured URL or they maybe cybersquatting. If so, before rejecting the candidate name, assess the feasibility of using an alternative or acquisition of the favoured address.


8. Testing: Before finalising your choice, you may optionally wish to research the final candidates with customers. When discussing candidates, it’s vital, that they are presented in context and with supporting creative.


9. Final Approval: At the very beginning it is important to understand how the candidate name will be approved, what are the decision steps and how decision makers can be included in the process to develop the name, thus getting them on-side.


When approaching the final stage and in order to obtain the stamp of approval from the “Naming Committee“, the name proposal will need to be presented in context and with supporting creative to bring it to life.